Foreign cars are enjoying an increase in popularity, Michael Fitzpatrick
Carmakers’ autumn advertising and sales campaigns have peaked in Japan,
just as sales figures show foreign imports are picking up at the expense
of domestic cars.
It’s a broad trend and it conceals another set of preferences held by
the average Japanese consumer - the move to low-priced European
compacts, rather than models made by the US big three - Ford, General
Motors and Chrysler.
The Americans have all launched major ad campaigns in Japan after
deciding to market right-hand drive cars for the first time, but sales
have been disappointing.
‘It is hard to erase the popular impression that American cars are
bulky, fragile, gas-guzzlers,’ one executive at the Ford Motor Company
in Japan complains.
So, increasingly, advertising for US brands has begun to reflect the
preferences of Japanese consumers while still retaining an emphasis on
the vehicles’ American flavour. One US car, the Neon, pitches itself as
a softer, friendlier sort of American. Ironically, the media has dubbed
it the ‘Japanese car-killer’ because it is seen as the only serious
threat to the country’s own brands from the US. However, Neon’s sales
stood at a meagre 605 units by the end of August.
The Europeans have an altogether more laid-back approach and find it
easier to sell their cars on the back of European stylishness and
One of the biggest success stories is Rover Japan, whose sales hit
25,000 last year. It used to rely on a global strategy, but more
recently it has also employed Japan’s number two agency, Hakuhodo.
Brian Yamamoto, of Rover Japan’s marketing department, comments: ‘Rover
likes to emphasise its Britishness. Our car campaigns here are more
image-driven than you would find in the US or the UK. We emphasise the
craftsmanship, or the heritage, depending on the brand.’